Malcolm Gladwell’s new book, David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, helped me to understand that e-discovery professionals are the new Davids of the legal profession. Giants beware. Here we come.
If you have not read Gladwell’s book yet, I suggest you do so, despite how all the big powerful reviewers have trashed it. Below is a good video of a TED-talk by Gladwell on the central theme of the book, the true meaning of the David and Goliath story. That is followed by a few of the more notable quotes from the book. This should give everyone who has not yet read the book enough background for the rest of this blog. I will then give my take on how Gladwell’s insights apply to law and e-discovery. I’ll explain why I relate to David and, like him, dare to take on the big guys. Like the bible story itself, I hope this will help motivate you to keep on doing the same.
Quotes from Gladwell’s David and Goliath:
The very thing that gave the giant his size was also the source of his greatest weakness…The powerful and the strong are not always what they seem.
Power can come in other forms as well – in breaking rules, in substituting speed and surprise for strength.
We spend a lot of time thinking about the ways that prestige and resources and belonging to elite institutions make us better off. We don’t spend enough time thinking about the ways in which those kinds of material advantages limit our options.
The reasonable man adapts himself to the world: the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.
An innovator who has brilliant ideas but lacks the discipline and persistence to carry them out is merely a dreamer.
David’s ability to win that battle begins with weakness. He can’t win the normal way. He must be creative.
Your obstacles and moments of weakness are your greatest opportunity.
The David position is a high-risk position. There was a possibility he could fail.
Be forgiving of those who have failed. If it doesn’t work, they will get another shot.
David is marked by his refusal to be passive.
When an underdog fought like David, he usually won. But most underdogs don’t fight like David.
To play by David’s rules you have to be desperate.
Desperate Like David
Like most e-discovery professionals, I relate with David, the little guy, the apparent underdog. In truth, I’m like him. Just another small blogger taking swipes at windmills. Ask any truly rich and powerful lawyer, for instance, the millionaires that run most of the big law firms, or the rich executives that run most of the law tech companies. Most think that individual bloggers like me, rule breakers, are not even worthy of their attention. I’m just one small voice among a billion self-published blogs that spit out three million new posts each day. They see me as just another little guy, easy to crush, easier still to ignore.
My readers, Davids all, certainly see that, but you might not see that I’m desperate like David. I try to hide it. A lawyer’s vice of pride I suppose. But in truth, I am desperate. Desperate for change and, like David in the Bible, motivated by a fear of failure, fear that my tribe of fact-based justice seekers may be wiped out.
I fear that law may get swept away by technological changes, may become irrelevant. Law may become just another big business. I fear that our society may lose its foundation in justice, or, as many contend, become even less just than it already is. I fear that a society based on Men, on Corporations, and not Law, may take over. I fear that a day may come when liberty and justice for all becomes as passé as privacy. I am desperate to stop all of those things.
We all have certain unalienable rights, including a right to both security and privacy. Neither can be absolute, but for justice sake, they must be kept in balance. That is all part of our legal right to Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. Like all lawyers, I have sworn multiple oaths to uphold these basic rights. Foolish David that I am, I take these vows seriously.
Mere Shepherd Boys
Every e-discovery specialist knows that as far as most lawyer Goliaths are concerned, you know, the big dogs, the heavy rain makers that run most law firms, people like us are just e-discovery puppies. We are lowly geeks who only do discovery for a living. Most still think this is just a lowly shepherd boy task suitable for first-years. Why would we ever make such attorneys partners? It is not even a real legal pursuit; it is just computer forensics. Some even think it is just something you hire a vendor do. In fact, there is no state Bar anywhere that will even recognize e-discovery as a legitimate speciality. Believe me, we tried in Florida and were shut down, big time. We heard all of those responses.
The Goliath establishment that still runs our justice system resents our kind and our technologies, including especially the sling-shot of our day, predictive coding. Although the Goliaths loathe us for who we are, they do not fear us, which is one of our advantages.
We are so small, many of the legal Goliaths do not even see us. They have very poor vision. They do not read blogs. If they do see us, it is just like the story in the Bible. They laugh at such unworthy rivals. They are over-confident to an extreme. For instance, most see me as just another blogger. Not even published by a major media corporation. Self-published. Just like a billion others. What a joke. I am easily trivialized as just another little ego-voice in the much disdained blogosphere. A little shepherd boy playing with computers. You should hear the establishment lawyer mockery if I admit that I also tweet on Twitter. Let us not even talk about having a You Tube Channel, or my far-out, unprofitable, attempts at online legal education. You can almost hear the ironic taunts of Goliath: Am I a dog that you should come to me with sticks?
Trying to Put a Dent in the Legal Universe
In truth, like David, I am desperate, and ready to risk-all to win the battle. I am tired of waiting for my profession to change. Tired of watching our justice system erode. That is why I fight so hard. Why I write each weekend to help motivate and arm the few other Davids, who, like me, are trying to make a difference. To paraphrase Steve Jobs, we e-discovery pioneers are all trying to put a dent in the legal universe. I am reminded of one of the greatest short videos of all times, one that also happens to be a 1984 Apple commercial.
The profession we chose, that we care about, moves so terribly slow, and in lockstep, just like the commercial. Still, we e-discovery pioneers persist. In my case, I write-on. Lately, I have even dared to fight some of the acromegalic giants head on, to put my crazy predictive coding claims to a test, both in court and in the laboratory.
My gratification is to sometimes hit the Goliaths on the head. Someday they may even fall as a group, like dominos, and the profession change. Maybe I will live to see that day, maybe not. But I am confident that my son will. Change is in the air. I am confident that the legal world will eventually adapt to technology and big data in a way that preserves individual rights. The legal profession, and its work of justice-making, will evolve and survive. It will refuse to become just another business. Someday lawyers, with the help of paralegals and techs, will thrive in the deluge of big data, not be drowned by it.
The work of justice, of fairness and equity, is critical to our future. Technology and science alone, without the temperance of justice, could easily create a Orwellian nightmare. We must and will prevent that from happening.
Join with me in that good fight. Stand up to the giants. But do not try to beat them at their own game. Understand and play by the rules of David.
The legal Goliaths may appear to be invincible, but in truth, they are vulnerable. The legal establishment’s weaknesses are technology, vision, and speed. Since these are David’s strengths, our victory is possible. If we carry on with our technology, unafraid, we will eventually get a-head. We have only to keep our edge, our desperation. Then it is just a matter of time and perseverance. It may seem like a hopeless, unfair fight to take on the powerful firms and corporations, to fight alone for truth and justice. But is it really, and to which side?